The “Sheikh Pandit”

He did not abandon his house even during peak militancy years of 90s. But recent floods forced Moti Lal Dhar to abandon his collapsed house and seek refuge in a tent. Syed Asma narrates his tale of survival and defiance    

Moti-Lal-Dhar.

A small iron gate opens into a scene of destruction, loss and pain! It is mud and debris all over. Stray dogs are sniffing through debris of Moti Lal Dhar’s collapsed three storey house. “They (stray dogs) live with us now,” shouts a woman from the window of her half collapsed house in Dhar’s neighbourhood.

Most of the population in the area has either shifted to their relative’s place or to rented apartments. Reconstruction is on in the entire area.

Dhar is a non-migrant Kashmiri Pandit presently living in the interiors of old city’s Mandir bagh area. The narrow lanes leading to his house are squeezed by the rubble of collapsed structures. The area was inundated in water for more than two weeks. The flood waters made the houses weak and almost 90 per cent of them collapsed.

Dhar is a retired government lecturer. Besides, working in the college of Education at Lal Chowk, Dhar used to take tuition classes at his home. The floods not only took away his shelter but deprived him of his lone source of income – his tuition classes. Dhar living in a rented apartment far away from his residence is not able to mobilize the students there, he says.

Presently, the family is fed by the earnings of his younger daughter, a graduate, who works as a teacher in a local private school. As luck would have it, she too is bed ridden since floods hit and is likely to undergo a minor surgery in a few weeks. “While getting rescued she was bitten by a snake or perhaps by some poisonous insect and is being severely infected.”

Dhar lives with his wife and younger daughter. His older daughter is married and has an eight-year-old son who lives with Dhar, he says.

With meager source of income and floods devastating everything Dhar spent Rs 30,000 to sort out the debris. “Come I will show you what I could save,” says Dhar. Moving forward, beside a huge heap of rubble, is a pile of windows and doors. “I saved it for the scarp dealers,” Dhar says with a smile.

With no source of income, building a new house seemed a distant dream to him, he says. Looking at the devastation of his house and the area around, Dhar says he had dropped the idea of building a new house. He had taken a decision of spending rest of his life in some rented apartment until a team of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq with an initiative Akh-Akis came to his rescue. The team led by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq is out to rebuild Kashmir after floods, 2014.

After flood hit the Valley and Dhar’s residence collapsed he shifted to a rented apartment in old city owned by his community members. Dhar and his family are not over the scare of floods yet. No matter what you ask him, he again starts with the same fearful story.

“On September 5, when the water level raised suddenly I along with my family moved to the upper storey of my house. The water level was continuously increasing. Finally we reached the roof top and spent the entire night there. The scariest part was that it was raining all night. I could see my death,” he remembers. “There were some helicopters roaming over but none of us came to our rescue. I am sure they could see us but did not help.”

Dhar says he along with his family was rescued by a group of local Muslim boys. Due to bad weather and raised water level, Dhar could not come to see his house but when he came back, it was all gone!

After coming back, he could only see destruction. Most of the houses in the area were either fully collapsed or about to collapse.

Nothing could be recovered. Nothing at all, he asserts.

A post graduate in four different subjects Dhar introduces himself as an illiterate.  All his documents, collections, merit certificates and books are lost under the debris.

“I lost everything that I collected in the life of six decades. Everything! My degrees, my books, my diaries, everything,” he says.

“Even the clothes I am wearing are borrowed,” he says in disappointment.

Born and brought up in Kashmir, Dhar belongs to a significant minority who once were considered the educated elites of the Valley. He after doing post-graduation in four different subjects of English, Education, History and Political Science was working as a teacher all through his life. Apart from teaching in the B.Ed College, Lal Chowk, he used to take tuition classes at home as well.

Though a Hindu, Dhar says he was always comfortable living with the Muslims. Rather than living in an exclusive Hindu area Dhar preferred to live in a Muslim majority area of Mandir bagh.

“Most of my students have been Muslims and from time to time have been of great help to me, all my life,” Dhar says. “I was always inclined towards Muslims because of the support and love they showed me.”

“If I did not migrate from here they [his Muslim acquaintances] are the only reason.”

Dhar remembers, well before 1990’s when his father, an excise inspector, passed away none from his [Kashmiri Hindus] community members visited him, not even to the cremation sight. Instead, it was his Muslim neighbours who helped him to perform the rituals. “A Kashmir Pandit, by nature and by his belief, is very superstitious. That day it was some festival of ours, so none from my community wanted to visit a funeral. It is taken as a bad omen. Instead, my Muslim brothers helped me all through and that is what is worth remembering,” remembers Dhar.

Dhar owes his stay in Kashmir to the support of his Muslim neighbors, friends and students.

“There may be some black sheep in the community but I have rarely met them,” says Dhar. He asserts he has braved all the brunt of these 25 years only because of the support and security provided by the majority population.

Seeing the circumstances around in 1990’s, Dhar too had decided to migrate but his students, mostly Muslims, did not allow him to.

He remembers: It was during late night when he heard some gunshots and later came to know that some Pandit has been killed in Nai-Sadak. “I heard many others incident and this was the latest incident. Having apprehensions of being killed, I along with my family, decided to migrate.”

He adds, “But the next morning a group of young boys, my students, one of whom was an Afghan trained militant, stopped me from going anywhere.”

“They categorically told me not to go anywhere. I still remember their words, ‘anyone who wishes to kill you will have to pass over our dead bodies to reach you.’ Such were the [Muslim] boys whom I had taught and groomed.”

Dhar owes his stay in Kashmir to people like these.

He opines the Kashmir Pandit migration was government engineered. To substantiate he says, a Kashmir Pandit Police officer from Srinagar told him to leave. “Do you need some more proofs to establish it was not a government decision to move Pandits out? A government officer is telling me to leave to save myself. What else?”

What discouraged Dhar more was the selfish attitude of his community. He shares, the Pandits did not migrate in hundreds or thousands but migrated in ones and twos.

Dhar’s own cousin who was living with him in the same house did not tell him when he migrated from Srinagar to Jammu.

“Strangely, they left mysteriously in ones and twos and didn’t even let me know, despite dinning and sleeping together in the same house. This is life!” he sighs.

He concludes with laughter, “and today after floods that same cousin is asking for his property share, from this rubble.”

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